In 1913, thirteen-year-old Hazel Mull-Dare has a comfortable, yet unconventional life in London with a mother who is obsessed with dogs and a father who is addicted to gambling. Hazel spends most of her time attending day school and going to races with her father. But everything changes on the day of the Epsom Derby, when she witnesses a suffragette fling herself in front of a horse, and her father suffers a breakdown from losing all his money at the race. Hazel becomes determined to join the women’s rights movement and with some of her friends, including a snotty, mischievous classmate, Gloria, Hazel helps stage a “suffrage action” at Madame Tussaud’s. The resulting uproar gets her into so much trouble that she is whisked away to her grandparents’ Caribbean plantation, where she slowly learns of a long-buried family secret.
The novel begins slowly, but once the story moves to the Caribbean, it becomes more interesting. Hazel’s realization of her family’s responsibility in the historical abuse of plantation workers is the most illuminating. But even with appealing concepts and humorous undertones, the story still disappoints because many threads are left unresolved at the novel’s end, when Hazel has returned to England. One example of this is Hazel’s early determination to become a suffragette—it is simply forgotten as soon as she leaves England, and Hearn never returns to conclude what happened to Gloria, or if Hazel ever took up any other causes (equal rights for all, perhaps, rather than just women). Despite its fits and starts, the writing is well executed, but it would still have been a much better read if Hearn had not left so much out.